Paper No. 15-8
Presentation Time: 4:15 PM
CLIMATE CHANGE AND SHELL MIDDENS: CREATING BASELINES FOR FUTURE DECISIONS
This study describes a pilot project designed to create a method for documenting coastal erosion at shell midden sites on the Maine coast, as part of the Maine Midden Minders, a citizen-science initiative. Middens in the Damariscotta/Newcastle area were measured, photographed, and described in partnership with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and the Damariscotta River Association. The goal of this effort is to provide an easily reproducible method for use by conservation associations, tribal community partners, and individuals who own or have access to endangered shell middens. This work is critical to the preservation of information from these sites because rising sea level and increased storm intensity is currently eroding virtually all of Maine’s over 2,000 shell middens. Ongoing damage has limited our ability to estimate their original size and spatial context. However, the remaining portions represent several thousand years of indigenous occupation and interaction with the coastal zone. As these middens disappear into the sea, much of the physical record of Pre-European indigenous occupation is lost. Additionally, the paleoenvironmental archive recorded in midden floral and faunal remains is erased. Traditional archaeological excavations at shell middens recover important information, but it is not feasible to apply this type of data collection to all sites currently under threat. Typically focused on establishing site extent, chronology, and identifying activity/occupation areas, these excavations rarely address or quantify ongoing site erosion. As a result, discussion of climate change impacts are largely limited to anecdotal evidence, frequently after storms have removed yet another portion of the site. While interesting, but depressing, this information is not adequate to inform cultural resources management decisions. Sequential documentation of threatened sites stored in a database accessible to researchers and cultural resource managers can provide information for prioritizing sites for archaeological investigations.